By Aaron Waldron
For most of my serious racing career, I was fortunate to live in an area that had many different facilities at which I could go race or practice on any given day. Though it would take up to a two-hour drive each way (or more, depending on big-city traffic), preparing for the next big race was simply a matter of choosing which track — big or small, indoor or outdoor, loamy or blue-grooved — was the closest match to what I felt the conditions would be at the upcoming event. When I wasn’t practicing for a big race, I would often visit two or three different tracks in a weekend; I was young and totally dedicated, and my dad matched my enthusiasm for getting as much wheel time as possible.
Because we were always on the road, though, I never really felt like I had a “home” track. All three off-road tracks in the county where I lived closed before I was 14 years old, so we didn’t really have much of a choice. The variety of different experiences were both a lot of fun and helped improve my skills — especially when it came to racing on new tracks for the first time for major events. If it was a Saturday or Sunday, we’d often arrive when the track opened to maximize the amount of practice before the club race started that evening.
Sometimes, those club races were frustrating and humbling growth opportunities. And by that, I mean I got smoked.
The advantage of familiarity is a constant among all different types of competitive sports and activities. Golfers playing at their home course have a better idea of what to expect, baseball and softball teams playing with the stands full of their own families and friends typically execute better than when they’re off in some far-away town, and kids competing in the county spelling bee after winning at their own school have to fight the nerves and pressure of being in a new environment surrounded by hordes of strangers.
It’s not entirely uncommon for a AMA motocross series rookie or FIM World Superbike wild-card entry to exceed expectations at their home track, only to fade back into the pack at the following round when visiting a course on which they haven’t logged thousands of laps more than their competitors. Combine the relative lack of on-track experience with other all-new surroundings, like a hotel room instead of one’s own bed, eating what’s available at local restaurants or what you can prepare in the lobby or kitchenette, driving a new route to and from the track itself and learning to navigate a new pit area all compound the anxiety of trying to pick up on the nuances of racing on a new circuit. The best racers of any kind of motor sport are the ones that are able to go from one track to another and perform at their highest potential, but for most humans it’s a struggle to cope with the additional pressure.
Still, that didn’t make me feel better when I’d go to a new track and get beat by someone I’d never heard of. It was even worse when the local hotshot was someone that I knew struggled to make the A-Main anywhere else, but could run with the best of the best when they visited his home track. Many of these racers were those I considered friends, or at least pleasant acquaintances, but my competitive side didn’t know the difference. Getting beat by someone I felt like I should’ve driven circles around made me question my own talent, infuriated me, made me feel embarrassed, and ultimately pushed me to practice more and improve and learn everything I could before I returned to some bathtub-sized track with weird dirt and bad lighting. Those tracks never did host any series rounds or trophy races, but pushing myself to race at a higher level at every individual facility, each with its own quirks, made me a better overall racer.
To be clear, there's absolutely nothing at all wrong with being a one-track wonder. This is a hobby, after all, and some drivers are more comfortable racing at the same place every week — that's what they find enjoyable.
We see this phenomenon even more often today, especially as manufacturers are bringing their top drivers to a greater number of events they themselves are promoting at tracks across the country, and those results are more easily disseminated on our live scoring feed and social media accounts. It’s highly doubtful that this shift will increase the chances of some unknown stock racer rocketing into the world championship winners circle in just a couple of years, but it will be less of a surprise to us all the next time it happens.
What about you? Does your local facility have any hometown heroes? Are you a one-track wonder, or a more well-rounded racer?